In the area around Zalduondo, the oldest inhabited medieval site in northern Spain is being excavated. Currently, this city is famous for its carnivals and for being the birthplace of the famous Celedón, a paradigm of a nice, jovial type of guy. It is the starting point for the Aizkorri Natural Park and other nearby natural areas.
Plan Your Visit to Zalduondo – San Adrián Tunnel
You can admire the facades of its beautiful houses with a short stroll; the real attraction is to take the Camino Real that leads to the Tunnel of San Adrián (on the border with Gipuzkoa) and make a pleasant ascent through the Natural Park of Aizkorri-Aratz. The next day you can head south to see the medieval town of Salvatierra and the enigmatic paintings of the churches of Gazeo and Alaitza. Since they are only open a few days a year it is essential to contact the Salvatierra-Agurain Tourist Office (945302931). Hikers can spend additional days hiking in the nature reserve of the Sierra de Entzia. Since this is a town that has traditionally not been a tourist destination, we have gathered information on where to sleep and eat in Zalduendo.
The origin of Zalduondo can be found in Aistra, a place that is currently uninhabited and located one kilometre away where archaeological remains (including a necropolis with 70 tombs) are being excavated, dating back to the 6th century. As it is a town from the early Middle Ages, during the years of the collapse of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Gothic domination, it is the oldest medieval town in the north of the Iberian Peninsula.
The first written reference in the history of Zalduhondo is from 1025 and appears in the Reja of San Millán, in the Monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla. Its name is linked to its location. In Basque, zaldu(a) means forest or jungle and ondo is interpreted as next to, referring to the fact that the village is located next to the large forests surrounding the nearby San Adrián Tunnel. It’s famous for the influx of pilgrims who use this route on their way to Santiago de Compostela through Gipuzkoa, from France and the rest of Europe. The inhabitants of Zalduondo were responsible for the safety of this mountain pass slope, as well as for maintaining the jurisdiction of the pastures on their side of the mountain range against the claims of their neighbours in Gipuzkoa.
In the Middle Ages, Zalduondo belonged to the association of knights of Álava called the Brotherhood of Arriaga, a group that controlled numerous villages in the plain land (Llanada) of Álava and which for more than a century fought against the town of Vitoria and its corregidor, appointed by the king. In 1332 they signed the so-called “Voluntary Surrender” to King Alfonso XI of Castile in order to guarantee themselves some privileges that they were losing due to the strength of the militias of Vitoria. By decision of the monarch, Zalduondo became dependent on the neighboring Salvatierra.
Later it fell into the hands of the lords, passing in 1382 (together with Salvatierra) into the hands of the chancellor Pedro López de Ayala. In 1412 his lords separated him from the county of Salvatierra and gave him as a dowry to Constanza de Ayala, the chancellor’s granddaughter, in her marriage to the Count of Oñati, who maintained a stately enclave surrounded by Basque territories inhabited by nobles. This singularity motivated the inhabitants of Zalduondo to frequently fight with their feudal lords for centuries.
The opening during the 17th century of the Camino Real, which connected the centre of the peninsula with the coast through Salinas de Léniz, marked the beginning of the end of the hegemony of the San Adrián Tunnel and of the towns that, as in the case of Zalduondo, depended on its existence. The new communication routes created in the 19th century ended up sinking this traditional route which, since then, has survived thanks to its role as a tourist attraction and being part of the northern branch of the Camino de Santiago.
The character of Celedón, the star of the Festivities of the White Virgin in Vitoria, was created around the figure of Celedón Alzola. He was a neighbour of Zalduondo of a jubilant nature who, year after year, went to the festivities of Vitoria and who has inspired the famous doll that, since 1957, opens the patron saint festivities in the capital of Álava.
Although it is not a large population of monumental character, it does not mean that there is nothing to see in Zalduondo. Its pleasant town centre and the richness of its surroundings are well worth a visit. Its main building is the Church of San Saturnino (16-18th century), which is notable for its large six-storey tower with a pyramidal top and its Baroque altarpiece (17th century) designed by Pedro de Ayala. The Hermitage of San Julián has a graceful Romanesque corbel and a Visigothic window on the apse wall.
As an example of civil architecture, the Palace-Museum of Lazarraga-Amezaga stands out, also known as the Palace of the Gizones (Men), 16th century, which has a beautiful plateresque façade on which a spectacular coat of arms is placed, flanked by two large anthropomorphic sculptures. The palace houses the Regional Ethnographic Museum, which is a review of the history, culture and traditions of the area through various artistic and archaeological samples from surrounding places.
Another remarkable building is the Andoin-Luzuriaga Palace, erected in 1683. It has an attractive ashlar stone façade with beautiful examples of forging on its balconies and a large coat of arms over its main entrance. Nowadays it is the residence of the famous Gipuzkoa writer Bernardo Atxaga.
Zalduondo also has several churches and hermitages, built in connection to its role in the Camino de Santiago, which are spread over different parts of the municipality. Among them are the Hermitage of the Holy Spirit, located inside the cave of San Adrián, and the Hermitage of San Julián and Santa Basilisa, from the 12th century, near Aistra. It is also worth visiting its two medieval bridges (Zubizabal and Txaroste) and its natural surroundings on an enjoyable walk.
As a tribute to the illustrious character of Celedón Alzaga, famous for his festivities in Vitoria, the Celedón Monument was erected in Zalduondo, where a fountain flows wine out from on holidays, as it could not be otherwise.
Your visit will be of particular interest if it takes place during the carnival season, as the Carnival of Zalduondo is considered to be the most interesting in Álava from an ethnographic point of view, attracting numerous visitors every year.
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